Lily slipped into the empty seat next to James at the Gryffindor table and helped herself to a couple of sausages. They'd begun sitting with each other's friends at meals now, sometimes.
James looked up at the sound of her voice and positively beamed at her in a way that made her feel a little breathless. Remus greeted her with his usual warm, easy grin and passed the tomatoes. Pettigrew winked gleefully at James.
Black simply gave her a polite smile. "Morning, Evans."
The first time that Sirius Black had been polite to her, Lily was sure that something large and sloppy was about to explode in her vicinity. But nothing had. In fact, Black hadn't pranked her once since the night, two weeks ago, when she and James had suddenly found themselves kissing, and their -- whatever it was -- had progressed from friendship to, well, a considerable amount of snogging.
Now Black pushed his half-eaten breakfast around on his plate and stood up. "I'd better get going. I've got some homework to finish before Charms." Without waiting for an answer, he strode away. James frowned forlornly after him, like a little boy who'd lost his puppy. Remus looked worried. Pettigrew simply watched him go.
"I wish I knew what's wrong with Padfoot these days." James sounded cross, but Lily didn't think he really was. "He's always going off on his own like that."
"It's obvious, isn't it?" Pettigrew glanced up from the piece of toast he was smearing with marmalade.
James looked at his friend impatiently. "What is it, then?"
"Well, it started when you took up with Evans, didn't it?" Pettigrew shot Lily a sideways glance.
She frowned, thinking that he probably had a point.
"Come on, Peter," said Remus, sounding reasonable. "You know Sirius has been cheering James on the whole time. He's delighted that Lily's finally speaking to old Prongs here." He winked at Lily, as if to say, please pardon the enormous understatement.
"Sure, he's happy for James." Pettigrew shrugged. "But what's he more afraid of than anything? Especially after running away from home the way he did last year -- cutting all ties with his family. And this summer he left your parents' house, Prongs, when he got his own flat."
There was a flash of realisation in Remus's eyes, and Lily thought of Tuney and suspected she understood, too. But James -- whose parents doted on him, who had never had a moment's doubt about where he stood -- still looked puzzled. "Out with it, Wormtail."
"We're the last family he's got, Prongs. What he's afraid of is being alone. Being left behind."
Pettigrew sopped up his last bit of tomato with a piece of toast. "So, he does the leaving."
. * . * .
"He's mental," James said for the dozenth time since breakfast. "Just because you and I are, you know...I mean, he's still my best mate. Nothing has to change. I don't know what he's got himself all worked up about."
Tonight it was the seventh-year prefects' turn to check the corridors before curfew, and Gryffindor had the upper two floors and the towers. The two of them had come as far as the foot of the stairs to the AstronomyTower, but now James hesitated. "I'm pretty sure he's up there."
"Black is? How do you know?" This wasn't the first time one of the boys had seemed to know an awful lot about where people were in the castle.
James shrugged, avoiding her eyes. "Let's just say it's a hunch." He smiled at her then, a little apologetically. "But maybe I should go up there and talk to him by myself."
Lily frowned, considering. "No, let me do it." James started to argue, but she shook her head. "Pettigrew thinks I'm the problem, and I think he might be right. Let me see if I can fix it." She reached up, almost shyly, and ran her thumb along the edge of his cheek, watching his eyes soften. "You go check the NorthTower, and I'll meet you in the gallery, by the portrait of Philip the Persnickety."
"All right. If you really want to." He brushed his lips across hers gently, sweetly, and it almost made her forget what he was agreeing to. "See you in a few."
"Erm," she said, recovering her wits. "Right."
Lily climbed the stairs slowly, emerging into the moonless night. The orange glow of a cigarette gave Black away; without it, he'd have been nothing more than a dark smudge against the star-strewn sky.
"Who's there?" she called, just in case James had been wrong -- even though there weren't very many students who'd be out after curfew with Muggle cigarettes.
"Me," came the gruff response. Definitely Black.
Lily wandered closer until she could see that he'd hoisted himself up onto the tower wall. His long legs dangled down inside, but the only thing behind him was a few hundred feet of air.
She leaned back with her elbows against the ramparts and looked over at him. "You going to share that?"
Black's eyebrows went up, but he passed her the cigarette. She took a drag, and managed to expel a pretty good stream of smoke without coughing too much.
"I guess I'll have to take ten points from Gryffindor now, instead of just five," she said conversationally, passing it back to him. "If both of us are smoking."
Black sniggered, and blew a series of smoke rings into the night. Always the show-off, Lily thought, but somehow tonight she was more amused than annoyed.
"Look," she said then, digging at a crack in the flagstones with the toe of her shoe. "I don't know what this thing is that's happening between James and me. I don't know if it'll last after we leave Hogwarts -- or even if it'll last more than a few weeks." She held out her hand for the cigarette, and Black handed it over again. This time she didn't cough at all.
"James thinks you're the best thing that's ever happened to him," said Black, very quietly.
"Well." Lily felt a hot flush creep over her cheeks, and was grateful for the darkness. "I like him rather a lot, myself."
"Yeah." Black gazed out into the night.
She took another drag, successfully. "But you're still his best friend."
Black looked back at her. She could see the faint reflection of starlight in his eyes, but he didn't say a word.
"Maybe he wants a...a girlfriend now." Lily blushed invisibly again. "But he needs a brother."
Still no response.
She gave the cigarette back and pushed herself off from the wall. "I'll have to take another five points from Gryffindor, since you're out after curfew. Better get back to the common room soon, or it'll be ten instead."
She could feel his eyes on her as she made her way back across the tower toward the stairs. She turned around one last time before going inside and saw the glow of the cigarette, warm and real against the distant, unseeing stars.
. * . * .
At lunchtime the next day, Lily walked down to the Great Hall from the Transfiguration classroom with James and his friends, so it was perfectly natural to sit with them and join in the silly jokes about cross-species Transfiguration.
She reached across Pettigrew for an apple, only to find when she turned back to her plate that her sandwich was standing up on one edge, trying to tap dance. Bits of lettuce and cheese showered down as it bobbled from one corner to the other.
She looked up, eyes narrowed, to find Black leaning back in his chair and smirking at her. "Finite," he said lazily, and her sandwich flopped back down onto her plate.
"Not bad," she deadpanned. "But if you really want to impress me, how about some ballet next time?"
Black raised an eyebrow. Pettigrew snorted into his pumpkin juice, and Remus gave her an appreciative grin. But it was the enormous, relieved smile on James's face that was her true reward.
. * fin * .
A/N: This story was originally written for the "Tales of Dogs and Scoundrels" challenge at the RedandtheWolf community on LiveJournal; many thanks to Red mods Bratanimus and Lady Bracknell for the excellent challenge prompts. Much gratitude also to my beta, Jadzialove.